The Garden of Words

Why Your Name Probably Wasn't Chosen at the Oscars

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So, recently the Oscar nominations came out, and for the most part, people did a collective “no surprise” shrug at the nominees for film of the year and out of morbid curiosity, decided to see what the other nominees were, since they also matter. With the exception of the backlash for La La Land getting more nominees than any other movie, everyone felt fine about who was nominated. That is, unless you were an animation fan. The five animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature were Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, and My Life as a Zucchini. While this sounds like a pretty good line-up, the internet was having a collective heart attack that Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was not selected. Of course, the usual comments that “they are full of Disney bias” or “the academy is flawed and doesn’t watch all the films that are nominated” came up, and of course, the less favorable comments that popped up will not be mentioned here. So, are people just being upset for no reason and are not thinking straight about why it wasn’t chosen? Personally, I feel like there are perfectly understandable reasons that Your Name was not chosen. Let’s just ignore the flawed thought process of the Oscars, and as best as possible, take out personal bias for the film itself, and dive into why Your Name probably didn’t make it on the list.

There was literally no hype or push for the film in the states.

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So, like it or not, films get chosen by the groups who push and lobby for their films to be chosen by the voters of the Academy. It also helps if you get your films out there to as many viewers as possible, whether it be showing them at film festivals, or being released and getting hype a couple of months before the actual award show. There is more to this than what I just said, and there are definitely videos talking about what goes on with the films released during the Oscar season, and how to know what will get chosen. So, what did Your Name not do here? Well, everything. Now, not to say there was literally no one talking about it, but most of it was “Look how amazing it’s doing in Asia and Japan” or “It’s the highest grossing Japanese animated film in Japan”. Doesn’t seem like there was much talk about the American viewers, or even the rest of the world for that matter, was there? The only hype it got over here was when Funimation announced that they got the rights to distribute it. I mean, that’s cool, but there wasn’t much else. Funimation either couldn’t or, quite frankly, didn’t lobby or hype the film. They released a subtitled trailer, but no English dub trailer, and unless you were able to see this film at some convention or in Australia or any of the countries outside of Asia and Japan that got to see it in a limited theatrical run, there was no way to legally watch the film. So, this must mean that that America will get to see the film soon? You wish. The only possible legal way to watch the film will be when Funimation releases it in April. So, to recap, if you live in the states, and want to feel morally well-rounded and see this film, you will have to go two months after the award show. Even if voters were to watch every film in the running, how can anyone check it out when there are barely any possible ways to watch the film? Why didn’t Funimation make the push for people to see it?

So, you must be wondering then why The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini get chosen when no one was really able to see them until now? Well, they have been making their rounds in the film festivals, and have been winning awards left and right, which result in the spread of word of mouth. It also helps that the two films have companies that are attached to them that have weight, GKids, Sony Pictures Classics, and Studio Ghibli. Those are all recognizable names that have had their films in the awards for years, so it’s no surprise that they got into the award show. Just because the film was doing gangbusters in regions that could relate to it more, doesn’t mean that same success is going to happen everywhere else if you don’t do anything to make it viewable to as many people as possible.

 Cultural themes and personal opinion might get in the way.

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Heads up, I am going to be using my personal opinion on the film for a bit with this example. Okay then, even if you were able to watch the film, would you honestly consider it better than what came out in 2016? Personal opinion will be put into perspective, and I simply couldn’t get into the movie as much as so many people praising it from head to toe did. I just don’t feel like it’s a film that can appeal to everyone in the right way, where it’s both entertaining, but complex enough to not be mindless fluff. I also found the film’s heavy use of Japanese culture, themes, and lifestyles to be distracting, and made it hard to get into the film about a boy and a girl swapping bodies.

Now, how does that make sense? Shouldn’t a film, no matter the country of origin, culture, and themes, be able to be enjoyed and understood by anyone? So then, why do films like Ernest & Celestine, The Boy and the Beast, and the American-made Kubo and the Two Strings, which has a heavy lean on Japanese folklore and visuals be so beloved by everyone? Easy, because they have stories and themes with characters everyone can get behind. The Boy and the Beast is about a father/son-like relationship, and has a unique moral for parents to be upfront with their kids and not constantly lie to them, and the consequences of doing so. Ernest & Celestine deals with discrimination, and is about the friendship of two souls who feel ousted by their own communities. Kubo and the Two Strings deals with the fact that life is about the balance of happiness and sadness, and how shielding yourself away from the hate and sadness in the world is not a good idea. These films are able to grab you, since they don’t really focus on their country of origin. They were telling good stories, and having interesting characters first. Personally, Your Name doesn’t do that. While it might have a pretty good chemistry among its characters, the film’s surroundings seem to take over the forefront. It also doesn’t help that a third act time travel twist happens, and ruins the film for me. I would have loved if they just focused on the romance between the two, or keep focusing on the body-swapping thing that somehow vanishes as the film goes on. Like, I get Makoto Shinkai has this thing about long-distance relationships, but once the third act comes into play, it feels weird and confusing to me. I really couldn’t get into it. I’m sure there are themes and ideals as to the sudden twist and the body-swapping, but it drags the film down. Plus, the character design and school day setting might be a bit bland and tiring to some. Make no mistake, Your Name is beautifully animated and looks downright gorgeous, and the fact that it has a theme of “everyone has someone out there” is nice, but it looks like a lot of other anime out there. I just felt too distracted by the film at certain points. I keep harping on the fact that so many people keep trying to say Makoto Shinkai is the next Hayao Miyazaki, but Makoto Shinkai needs to work on his storytelling and writing before he can get to levels of filmmakers like Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, or Mamoro Hosoda. Shinkai is a very talented individual, but he uses “flash over proper substance” way too much, and I just won’t sit here and agree with the world saying it’s the best movie of all time, when it’s not what I believe. Even if the voters in the academy were not going by bribes or sweet swag offerings, personal opinion is still going to be a thing, and not everyone is going to agree on it being a good movie. Even checking out the reviews for it, there are people who don’t like it for understandable reasons. They aren’t doing it because it’s the popular thing to do by bashing a film everyone loves. Heaven forbid, that is what makes us unique, when we all have our own opinions.

 2016 was a tough year for animation.

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Personal preference for the film aside, it’s not like Your Name was going to get a spot in the Oscars so easily. To me, 2016 was one of the best years of animation of all time. Zootopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory, The Little Prince, Phantom Boy, Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Zucchini, April and the Extraordinary World, 25 April, Mune: Guardian of the Moon, Sing, Storks, Sausage Party, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Boy and the Beast, and you get the idea. It was going to have major competition. You have films from both big and small studios with distributors who aren’t going to be holding back in terms of wanting to be selected for those award nominees. It was a tough year. If this was something like 2002 or 2011, I would understand, but it wasn’t. It was 2016, and animation was strong.

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With all that out of the way, am I saying that these are the 100% facts? Of course not! This was never meant to be actual factual information. It was a guess as to why the film wasn’t recognized at the award show, and some logical reasoning behind the “snub”. Was I annoyed that Frozen beat out Wolf Children, The Wind Rises, and Ernest & Celestine? Of course, but I knew they weren’t going to win. Was I annoyed that Big Hero 6 won Best Animated Feature, when there were Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The LEGO Movie, and DreamWorks’ How to Train your Dragon 2? Yes, but I’m not going to sit here and be grumpy that Disney got yet another Oscar. Yes, it’s very hard for non-Ghibli Japanese-animated films to get recognition from the Academy, but in the end, what makes these types of films special to you also makes it not  matter if they get an award or not. GKids might have not won any of the American Awards, but it doesn’t diminish that the films they bring over are fantastic. While I’m not fully on-board with Your Name’s popularity, it shouldn’t matter if it was nominated for an award or not. Some recognition would be nice, but if you consider it a good movie, then by all means, keep considering it a good movie. It’s in my top 20 of 2016 for a reason, since I feel like its strengths are indeed strong. Don’t let it being left out of the Oscars weaken your love for the film. Go see it when it comes to theaters in April, and buy it when it comes out on DVD. I’m just saying don’t be freaked out that it wasn’t picked.

The Other Side of Animation: The Garden of Words Review


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After that grating, obnoxious, and horrible heap of a movie that I previously reviewed, Cool World, it always makes me glad when I get to see something good. Sure, seeing the bad will help improve one’s filmmaking skills and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but sometimes, I just want to watch something that is interesting and something that resonates with me. After watching what the Hollywood entertainment system thinks we like to watch, it’s good to revel in something that at least made you think and be engaged. I just so happened to find a short film that has what I am looking for. Today’s review is of the short film, The Garden of Words. This 48-minute short film was distributed by Toho, and animated by CoMix Wave Films. It was directed by Makoto Shinkai. If Makoto Shinkai sounds familiar, then you have probably seen his films before, since CoMix Wave Films and Makoto have made such well-received films as Voices of a Distant Star, and other films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. So, what do I think about this short film? Well, let’s dive in and get started then, shall we?

The Garden of Words centers two humans. The first is a 15-year old male named Takao Akizuki, voiced by Blake Shepard. On a rainy day, he cuts class to go sit in a pavilion in a park to draw shoe designs in his sketch book. One day, he meets an older woman named Yukari Yukino, voiced by Shelley Calene-Black. After a while, they create a bond between one another as friends until they realize that they may have known each other in more ways than one.

So, what is great about this short film? Well, what this film downright immerses you with is its atmosphere. By golly, this film just pulls you into its quiet, wet world. A lot of the time, there is no music or background score playing, and all you hear are the sounds from the areas around the main characters. The many rainy scenes are something right out of a yoga or meditation CD. It also helps that the film is beautifully animated, and while the character designs are, in my opinion, okay, everything else looks amazing. I have read where some people had a problem with how this film was presented and animated, but to me, I wasn’t distracted. While I have some problems with the personalities of the two main characters, I do like the relationship between them. Sometimes, all you need to find is a kindred soul that you can talk to/relate to. Another element that helps pull you into the movie is the beautiful piano score. It’s just gorgeous music to listen to. If you are curious about who wrote the music, it was Daisuke Kashiwa.

With all that said, this film does have problems. The two biggest problems are the character themselves and the running time. The two characters the film follows are not really that interesting, personality-wise. Granted, they are both suffering some form of depression, and you could argue that people display depression in different ways, but I blame the running time for the weak characters. I mean, it’s not like the characters have no personality or interesting things about them, like how the male is a hard worker. But, if the film was a bit longer than 46 minutes, I think we could have gotten more breathing room with the two leads, instead of multiple montages set to the beautiful scenery and musical score. This short film is based off a one-issue manga, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t flesh things out more. For example, besides the two leads, who are likable in their own ways, everyone else feels petty and mean-spirited. A lot of this comes from the twist in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have not seen this short yet. Of course, they could just get curious and look up the plot on Wikipedia. I also found the ending to be rushed and overly dramatic. Not that there isn’t some kind of corny enjoyment out of it, but again, a longer running time and a better-paced ending could have fixed so many problems the short film has.

Overall, after a couple of viewings, I ended up really liking The Garden of Words. I still think Makoto Shinkai could have fixed a few problems, but when he really hits the nail on the head, he is truly one of the best talents that Japanese animation can offer. The film itself is about $20, but if you can find it for cheaper, I would definitely recommend it. It has its issues, but it’s one of the more beautiful and atmospheric movies that I have ever seen. Well, we have seen what good Japanese animation can give us, let’s see what the worst of Japanese animation can give us with OVA, Cybernetics Guardian. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!